Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Slow and steady

The day after the Canyon Meadow 50K, Beat and I went out for a long mountain bike ride. I call it long because, to most people, a 26-mile mountain bike ride with 3,300 feet of climbing is on the moderate to long side. When just went out for the fun of it; Beat wanted to ride the Fatback because it's been a while since the Fatback's been out, and also because we expected to run into mud from the weekend's heavy rain.

I was feeling slightly sluggish and had some residual tightness in my hamstrings from the race, but my Garmin stats showed a similar heart rate and speed, proving that, for the most part, a 31-mile run doesn't even force me to skip a beat these days. I like that about my fitness and also my general pacing. A 50K doesn't shut me down because, to put it simply, I don't run fast. Of course, "fast" is all relative, even when I just compare myself against myself. I do run fast compared to what I could do a year ago, but slow compared to what I'm likely capable of.

There's an age-old dynamic in there that I still struggle with. Of course a side of me wants to be "fast." That side will be thrilled if I start to get my 50K finishing times under six hours or collect a few mugs at more competitive local races. That side of me might even be tempted to sign up for a road marathon just so I can see where I fit in with the grand scheme of "running." But as I become more entrenched in my outdoor-seeking lifestyle, I become less interested in seeking the outer limits of my speed abilities. Why? Because, in my experience, the pursuit of speed skirts an edge that can easily lead to injury, burnout, and a frightening lack of outside time. But the pursuit of consistency has led to a condition where I can go for a fun six-hour run in the mud one day, and an exhilarating three-hour mountain bike ride the next, without issue. Who knows what kind of couch-bound pain I might frequently find myself in if I tried to run as fast as I could, all of the time?

We all have our rewards. But it's true, for someone who claims not to really care about results, I participate in a lot of races. Both of my memoirs are about racing. And I've structured the entire first half of my summer around a race, the Tahoe Rim Trail 100. The contradictions I see in myself have sparked a new nonfiction project idea that I'm starting to research — an article about the ways racing, specifically endurance racing, has become synonymous with adventure, and vice versa.

This project started when I began looking into the history of the Alaska Wilderness Classic, arguably the original "adventure race" and still one of the most difficult races you've never heard of. For the people who organized this race back in the early 1980s, it wasn't enough to cross 200 miles of undeveloped, sometimes uncharted Alaska wilderness using any human-powered means they could. They wanted to do it as fast as they possibly could, and to record who could do it the fastest. Why? What drives them? And how do they compare to the motivations of those lining up for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, or the Tour Divide, or the Canyon Meadow 50K in monsoon rains for that matter? It's a rather vague question to ask but I think researching it could reveal more than a few interesting profiles and stories, and maybe even larger insight into the modern condition. That's always the hope. But this is just one project I've started to outline, among several.

Meanwhile, Beat and I are gearing up to head down to San Diego for the San Diego 100 this weekend. Beat is entered in the race and I'm planning to pace either him or our friend Martina for the last 50 miles, hopefully. The San Diego 100 is considered to be more of a "runner's race," which means even as half of a 100-miler, I'll still likely have to cover this distance considerably faster than I have yet, during the last half of the Bear 100 and the whole Susitna 100. And honestly, my role is actually less of a "pacer" and more of a "protegee" trying to learn about the ins and outs of a trail 100-miler. So my goal is just to keep up, learn tons, and go into Tahoe Rim Trail that much stronger, mentally. Because, ultimately, when it comes to my racing, mental strength is what I'm seeking. That's my motivation, and reward.